Barack Obama

Russia says needs time to ratify START

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian lawmakers need more time to examine a U.S. resolution ratifying the START nuclear arms reduction treaty before approving it, a senior MP said on Thursday, crushing hopes for a swift ratification in 2010.

The U.S. Senate voted 71-26 on Wednesday to approve the pact, which both presidents have called an essential foundation for further cuts in the world’s biggest arsenals and a boon to efforts to curb nuclear proliferation worldwide.

“The ratification resolution as it was voted for by the U.S. Senate contains a large number of interpretations which require study and response from the Russian lawmakers,” Konstantin Kosachev said.

Kosachev said the treaty will be debated in the State Duma lower house of parliament in the first reading on December24 at the last plenary session this year but then the MPs will go on their New Year holiday to re-convene after January10.

“Further work on the treaty will continue after resumption of the State Duma’s work in January,” Konstantin Kosachev was quoted as saying. The treaty needs to be approved in three readings.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama were due to discuss the ratification process later on Thursday, Medvedev’s spokeswoman said.

Swift Russian ratification of the New START treaty would have shored up efforts to set long-strained relations on a positive track, increasing trust between Cold War foes bristling with nuclear weapons and sending the world a signal of unity.

It would be a victory for Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, who signed the treaty in April and have made improving ties between Moscow and Washington -- increasingly strained under their predecessors -- a major foreign policy goal.


If the treaty failed, it would batter the reputations of both presidents and badly cloud the “reset,” throwing increased Russian cooperation with Washington on issues such as Iran’s nuclear programme and the Afghan war into doubt.

But analysts and arms control experts said Russian approval was all but certain.

“It will now be ratified for sure,” veteran Soviet diplomat and arms treaty negotiator Roland Timerbayev told Reuters.

The Kremlin-backed United Russia party dominates both houses of parliament, so approval is guaranteed as long as President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is seen as the country’s paramount leader, support it.

“If the Kremlin wants do to it as quickly as possible then it can be done in one day,” Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, told Reuters.

The new START will cut long-range, strategic nuclear weapons deployed by Russia and the United States to no more than 1,550 on each side within seven years.

It will establish binding rules for monitoring and verification, crucial after the expiry of the START I treaty a year ago left the nations guessing about movements within other’s arsenals.

Securing the treaty is important for Medvedev, who observers say has little to show for more than two years as president -- and whose embrace of Obama’s “reset” campaign has ruffled the feathers of Russian hawks.

Medvedev welcomed U.S. Senate approval and “expressed hope that the Duma and Federation Council (Russia’s upper parliament house) will be ready to examine this issue and also ratify the document,” his spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said on Thursday.

But she also said lawmakers would need time to study the U.S. resolution on ratification before making a decision.

Lukyanov said Russia would likely emphasize, as it did in a declaration that accompanied the treaty in April, that Moscow could withdraw from the pact if U.S. missile defense systems develop into a security threat for Russia.

Medvedev stressed on Wednesday that ties could sour badly if Russia is not given a strong enough voice in plans for a European missile shield in the coming years.

But Timerbayev said no side documents would block approval of the treaty.

“These resolutions are the opinions of the Duma or the Senate -- important views maybe -- but they don’t affect the substance of the treaty.”

Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; writing by Steve Gutterman and Gleb Bryanski; editing by Philippa Fletcher